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Anita Dongre’s Grassroot opens in New York

LiveMint logoLiveMint 25-08-2017 Pahull Bains

On any given day, the cobblestoned streets of SoHo in New York are buzzing—tourists making their first pilgrimage to the famed French café Balthazar, the city’s well-heeled enjoying an aperitif at Cipriani, and fashion enthusiasts working their way through the multitude of boutiques in the area—Celine, Alexander Wang, Zimmermann, Isabel Marant…the list goes on. The latest addition to this highly coveted stretch of real estate is a welcome surprise. It’s not a global powerhouse, like Gucci or Chanel, nor a cult label like Sweden’s Acne or Japanese brand Muji, but Anita Dongre’s two-year-old eco-conscious label Grassroot should feel right at home amongst these international names (her eponymous couture label is set to follow suit a few months down the line).

“I’ve always loved the multicultural vibe of New York City and its inherent sense of fashion,” Dongre says in an email interview. “This makes it the perfect platform to present the finesse of Indian craftsmanship. And the numbers from online sales reinforce this belief.”

The The Grassroot store in SoHo, New York

If there’s one thing that can’t be called into question, it’s Dongre’s business acumen. You can’t build what’s arguably India’s most successful fashion empire without a head for retail and an innate understanding of consumer needs. According to a March story in Forbes India, her parent company, House of Anita Dongre, “employs 2,800 people directly, has 250 exclusive brand outlets, 656 large-format stores, and is available through 83 multi-brand outlets across India. The net revenues for FY16 stood at Rs 414 crore, a 28 percent growth from the previous year.”

So there’s no doubt that Dongre and her team did their homework before planting their flag on US soil. Given its easy, wearable aesthetic, Grassroot—which opened its doors in downtown Manhattan last month—is sure to find a loyal clientele among New Yorkers on the lookout for clothing that works as well for hectic city activities as it does for lazy summer weekends in the Hamptons. There’s also the bonus of the millions of visitors that pass through the metropolis each year, estimated by the city’s tourism marketing agency, NYC & Company, to be 58.5 million in 2016. American Vogue is already a fan of the label, stating in a recent story that “the light-as-air pieces are your best bet for staying cool in these dog days of summer”. Just as importantly, the label’s philosophy fits right in with the growing global trend of fashion consumers and purveyors alike looking to make more sustainable, responsible and ethical choices.

Anita Dongre

“I’ve enjoyed so many of the conversations we’ve had at the store about personal beliefs and how Grassroot allows that choice to be made while still being beautiful,” says Dongre.

Not only does Grassroot not use leather, fur or animal skins in its products, but it also works directly with women artisans and non-governmental organizations in India to ensure fair wages and a continuation of craftsmanship. Each piece in the store, from Chikankari tunics and Jamdani dresses to hand-embroidered blouses and linen jackets, comes with a label detailing the craftsmanship involved in its production. “The history of Chikankari dates back to the third century BC. Hand-carved wooden blocks are used to print patterns onto fabric. Women in rural India then embroider on to those patterns in up to 32 different stitches” reads the label on a mustard-yellow Chikankari midi dress.

“At Grassroot, the crafts and craftspeople are heroes,” says Dongre. “This brand was born out of the need to revive India’s dying textile crafts and make them relevant to the woman of today. The store exists to bring that purpose further to life.”

Housed in the same historic 19th century building as iconic New York designer Anna Sui, the Grassroot store is an airy, light-filled space, with dapper salesmen outfitted in unbleached, organic cotton shirts and trousers (ensembles that discerning male customers have already eyed and inquired about). Designed by architect Shonan Trehan, the space is minimal and tranquil, ensuring the focus remains on the clothes and their underlying craftsmanship. Behind the recycled wood racks are wall panels in Chanderi and mul outlining the journey of the brand, and the emotion driving it forward.

“Grassroot is the culmination of 30 years of thought, and an embodiment of my core passion—to design beautiful clothes that serve a purpose,” says Dongre. “We do this through slowing down fashion, giving it the love and attention it deserves. Every Grassroot garment is handwoven or hand- embroidered. These are small-batch items that take great skill to make, and are garments of respect—respect for the planet, people and crafts.”

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